Friday, December 28, 2012


I was talking with a friend who teaches communication in a medical school. She’s getting on (aren’t we all?), so her dean asked her to think about who will replace her when she retires.

She hasn’t been able to identify anyone. She told me, “It seems like younger people just aren’t interested in this field.”

I concur. Four to six times annually I miss the cancer support meetings I normally facilitate because of vacation or illness. In past years competent substitutes like colleagues or their interns were always available to fill in. This year I really had to scramble. There are no more interns, and most of my colleagues were overbooked, tired, and, I realized, past middle age.

The younger psychologists I know who work in hospitals are fully absorbed in issues of diagnosis and medication. They seem to have little or no expertise or even interest in normal communication. It’s as though only a single generation--we 1960s hippies--was touched by the significance of deep contact. What’s to become of this craft?

Maybe I’m missing something. It could be that the emotional aspects of illness are being addressed by some other department. Maybe standard medical practitioners like docs and nurses are finally becoming as compassionate as we’d like. Or maybe social workers finally have adequate time to sit with patients and their families. I just don’t see much of that yet.

So help me out here. What do you see? When I and my ilk shuffle off this mortal coil, what will the experience of sick people be like?


  1. I have been involved with the medical world for several years now, not as a recipient but as a helper of aging family members. It seems to me that most of the medical practitioners are just body mechanics who see each person as just another anonymous body. No one appears to pay attention to the person's medications that might be prescribed by other specialized physicians so the person begins to have weird symptoms that then gets another medication.

    My aunt, who lives in Southern California, was complaining about having dizzy spells and nausea. I asked a cousin to go with her to one doctor to check her medications. They found that her cocktail was making her sick.

    I am in charge of a single 81 year old uncle (a Kaiser member) who had to move into an assisted living facility. A year ago, he had eye surgery. Although it was written on his chart that he was taking a prostate drug which had counter indications with this eye procedure the doctor went ahead. After the surgery, my uncle found that he was having problems with his sight. We did some research and found, what his doctor should have known, that his medication was causing problems. Now that I have seen him in the assisted living/nursing home, I have found that his doctors are very nonchalant about his care and nursing staff are totally unobservant of personal needs like having toe nails cut.

    However, if you can afford $10K per week for home care, you get tender loving care.

    I think that the medical world's lack of attention is due to needing to have a great bottom line. They work for HMOs whose only idea is to get as much money out of the assembly line as possible. People have become too specialized and thus, do not pay attention to anything but their own fields of interest.

    I was very lucky to have had caring physicians & staff when I was younger but 30 years ago, I quit with regular medicine and took a proactive stance with preventing health issues....lots of Vit C, other healthy supplements, running daily and healthy foods. So far so good.

    I admire that you are trying to maintain an old fashioned perspective on medicine and care for your patients!!!

  2. It is damn difficult to find and log in here. Name and url didn't work, neither did wordpress. No FBN option.

    Anyways, I reposted to FB, and will pass on to MD daughter. Your writing is appreciated.

  3. As someone who is 67, I am not looking forward to the future, medically, one damn bit. My mom passed on two years ago, and her care was hit and miss, despite full coverage through Kaiser and UC profs retiree benefits, over $6,000/month for three years.

  4. I am guardedly optimistic. Doesn't the societal pendulum cycle about once every eighty years? The problem you describe, Jeff, has become so extreme and obvious I can easily imagine a dawning of kindness and respect. In fact there are signs of it. It is always darkest just before dawn. RIP, Jeff.

  5. I glad to read you post, i hope you will definitely find soon your solution.